If the Newark Catholic and Lakewood high school boys basketball players had been asking to be among Licking County's most improved teams entering Christmas break, that's what they got.

If the Newark Catholic and Lakewood high school boys basketball players had been asking to be among Licking County's most improved teams entering Christmas break, that's what they got.

The Green Wave started 5-0 overall, and its 3-0 league record makes it the last unbeaten in MSL-Ohio Division play. It defeated the Lancers 62-42 on Dec. 10 and in more dramatic fashion topped another league contender with a 51-48 victory over Heath on Dec. 19.

The Lancers opened 4-1, highlighted by their first road win in nearly two full calendar years, 62-41 over Watkins Memorial on Dec. 16. Their 2-1 record in the MSL-Ohio includes a 71-68 victory over defending-champion Columbus Academy on Dec. 19.

Newark Catholic was 3-2 overall entering last year's Christmas break and Lakewood was 2-3.

"Ever since (classmate Chris Leibold) and I came into the school all we've talked about is senior year," Green Wave forward Andy Vernau said. "It's here now, and we're really enjoying this."

After dropping nine games by five or fewer points last season, James Moerman's 3-pointer from well beyond the line at the buzzer lifted the Green Wave past the Bulldogs. Newark Catholic won another close one the next day 62-60 at Liberty Union in the team's first road game, and it has made a combined 28 shots from 3-point range.

"Every game is one step," said Vernau, one of four players who have led the Green Wave in scoring.

The others are Kevin Cox, Leibold and junior wing player Matt Dawson, who is averaging a team-high 14.4 points.

Lakewood is leaning heavily on seniors Ryan Davis and Adam Parlet and junior Justin Large, a guard who is averaging a team-best 16.4 points. He and Davis, who averages 14.2 points, have scored in double figures in every game.

"Our whole starting five (including Ryan Mack and Jarrod Rock) is playing well," coach Zach Parr said. "They can all drive and shoot, and they're all pretty good foul shooters. We have a balanced attack."

The goal now is to keep things going in the right direction.

The Lancers return from break Monday at Johnstown. Games follow Saturday against Utica and Jan. 6 at Licking Heights before they resume MSL-Ohio play Jan. 9 at home against Granville.

"The kids have worked hard and they should be enjoying this, but we know it's a long season," said Parr, whose team won only twice after Christmas a year ago and finished 4-17. "We're using our 10-day break as a mini preseason of sorts, working on things we do well and the fundamentals."

The Green Wave returns from the break to play in the eight-team Uhrichsville Claymont Showcase, meeting Claymont on Monday and Tuscarawas Central Catholic on Tuesday.

The event also features Lakewood St. Edward, which lost to Newark 65-52 in in last year's Division I state final. Newark Catholic plays host to Fisher Catholic on Saturday before resuming MSL-Ohio play Jan. 9 against visiting Bexley.

"We know we've still got a long way to go," said Vernau, whose team endured losing streaks of four and six games after Christmas a year ago and finished 9-13. "Right now we're all a little beat up because we've had some physical games but a few days off should help."

MIXED RESULTS -- All three Licking County schools playing in the MBC have new coaches this season, and they include Utica's Eric Sheck.

The results have been mixed so far.

Northridge, now coached by John Wheeler, was 3-2 before playing Academy last Monday. Johnstown, coached by Kevin Martin, was 2-2 entering last Monday's game against Heath. The Redskins were 2-3 before playing Coshocton last Saturday.